Tagged: gaming

Shadowgrounds: A fun little top-down action game.

If you’re like me, you probably have a massive backlog of games. It’s not surprising, Steam sales have become the bane of our existence. In my case, I sometimes buy games and wonder why I bought them, like Chrome. I almost wrote something about that game, but I kept dying even on easy, so I bailed out of playing that one.

This is just a small excerpt of some of the games I’ve bought on countless Steam sales and never played or finished.

So let’s see what else I got. It’s a bit early in the year to write about Amnesia: The Dark Descent, stuff like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has been done to death, and I don’t think there’s interest in me writing about the Telltale Wallace & Gromit games…

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“Doom 3 meets Smash TV” is quite an unusual boxquote.

Here we go. Shadowgrounds, a game from Frozenbyte, a Finnish developer who’d later be known for the Trine series of games. This was one of their earlier efforts, and holds a bit of a memory for me. We have to go back to the far-flung past of 2006 to explain this story.

While Steam is an absolute juggernaut and considered the gold standard of PC digital distribution now, back in 2006 Steam was a much different beast. Besides Valve’s own titles, there wasn’t much third party support for the storefront, outside of a few indie games like the wonderful Darwinia and the one-note forgettable Rag Doll Kung Fu.

Frozenbyte’s Shadowgrounds was one of those early adopters of Valve’s content delivery service, and while it probably wasn’t a breakout hit, I remember it being one of those standout games during Steam’s early years. Considering this was during the transition period for PC gaming where games were still sold in physical boxes in stores, this was probably a better place for the game than being stuck in a bargain rack at a GameStop.

I bought this along with its sequel, Shadowgrounds: Survivor during a Steam summer sale. I was familiar with the game through a demo, but I figure the full game was probably worth a try. It being $1.24 during a Steam summer sale probably helped too, as I’m a sucker for impulse-buying games for super cheap.

You play as engineer William Tyler, who is sent to the moon Ganymede to do some routine generator repair. As expected in fiction like this, stuff goes wrong and aliens begin to invade. Armed with only a pistol, Tyler must fight loads of aliens as he fights for his life while trying to find out the mystery of this invasion. Along the way you meet people that try to help you make sense of this mess.

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Even for a top-down shooter, this game has pretty good level complexity.

Shadowgrounds is a top-down shooter. It reminds me of Valve’s Alien Swarm, though European readers may liken this more to Team17’s Alien Breed series of games. The game is fairly straightforward: Shoot the aliens before they attack you and kill you.

A lot of the arsenal is fairly commonplace stuff for these kind of action games: You start with a pistol, then later get an assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, stuff like that. The only unique weapons on display is a laser rifle, a longer-range railgun and an electric zapper weapon towards the end of the game.

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You can’t tell in the screenshot, but the character’s head-in-a-box has a moving mouth, but not their in-game version. Looks kinda weird to me.

Throughout the game there’s a lot of PDAs and computers that explain the shady dealings that this military base does, which is kinda cool. While this does give some Doom 3 vibes, it at least seems more interesting especially when one of the PDAs is a small gag about a chef’s love for meatballs.

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I bought stuff! 4/18/16: Finding leaks and filling in the cracks.

Sometimes you get bored and lack motivation to do something. What do you do when you’re me, someone who writes silly things on the internet and looking for dumb stuff to write about? That’s right, time to do some thrift store shopping.

I will admit that most of the items I found this time around are random curiosities more than anything. There are some fairly common and interesting things in here, however, and may be something to write about in future blog posts. If all else fails, it’s a good document of all the junk I get and how I got it.

I roamed around the Oak Grove/Oregon City area for this, checking two chain thrift stores and a Goodwill, plus a special hobby shop on the edge of Oregon City. Let’s rock.

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There’s a post-it over Quake III Team Arena because the CD key would otherwise be visible. Can’t let you steal my CD key for a 20-year-old game.

$4: Four random CDs:

  • Quake Mission Pack No. 2: Disillusion of Eternity (PC)

  • Shellshock: ‘Nam 67 (PC)

  • Quake III Team Arena (PC)

  • Disney Karaoke Series: The Cheetah Girls (music CD)

My first hit was a local chain thrift store. I thought I was gonna strike out, but the CDs I got have some interest.

I had Quake Mission Pack 1: Scourge of Armagon, but not the second expansion, Dissolution of Eternity. Now I have both. I remember not hearing too many great things about this one compared to Scourge, but hey, might as well get it to complete my Quake collection.

I also snagged Quake III Team Arena, aka that one game when id Software saw how popular Unreal Tournament was and realized their game didn’t have many team modes, so they hastily put out a paid expansion. Again, I bought this because I wanted to have the complete Quake III experience. Nowadays, Quake Live pretty much covers that Quake III/Team Arena void, so this is more for collection’s sake.

The third and final game is Shellshock: Nam ’67, one of the many Vietnam War games that came out in the early to mid 2000s. This game is notable for being made by Guerrilla Games, the guys who’d be later known for the semi-popular Killzone series. This was the sole game they made before Sony bought them around 2004. I don’t know if this game’s any good, but it can’t be that bad, can it?

Then there’s the last one: A Cheetah Girls Karaoke CD. This is probably the weirdest of the lot, but I bought it because it’s a Karaoke CD that supports the CD+G format that I covered a long while back here. Sadly it’s a different form of CD+G than the stuff featured in the Rock Paintings album, so I couldn’t get lyrics or music to show up. It appears I didn’t know much about this stuff as I thought.

Hopefully I’ll never have to explain why I own a Cheetah Girls CD.

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Diving into the Windows 10 Marketplace with Modern Combat 5: Blackout.

For a while, I wasn’t going to upgrade to Windows 10. But then a friend convinced me of a few cool features, and I decided to finally take the plunge since it’s free as of this writing. Since my current PC was on Windows 7, I missed out on all the cool apps that came out during the Windows 8 era. After perusing the store, I found a few interesting games. Boy, I wasn’t expecting this…

It's time for STERN MILITARY SOLDIER POSE

It’s time for STERN MILITARY SOLDIER POSE

Modern Combat 5: Blackout is probably the most generic title for a game ever. This is the product of Gameloft, a French-based development studio known famously for their mobile phone and handheld games. Naturally, this is a “port” from iOS/Android devices, supporting cumbersome touch screen controls.

While I haven’t played the previous entries in the Modern Combat franchise, I am familiar with it. One of the games, Modern Combat: Domination, made it to consoles and I remember Giant Bomb covering it once. At the time, it looked like a mish-mash of Call of Duty 4 with a pinch of Counter-Strike‘s elements. By default, I go into any new game I play with mild skepticism and low expectations just so I don’t hype myself up for disappointment, so I wasn’t expecting much here.

This is a hell of a way to start a game...

This is a hell of a way to start a game…

You play as Phoenix, a mercenary for works for some corporation. With the help of a bald marine named Bull, you two storm through San Marco, escaping from evil terrorists, and eventually escaping a helicopter in a boat chase sequence. Pretty exciting for the beginning of a Call of Duty clone.

Is this some spirit animal allegory I’m not aware of?

Afterwards, Phoenix wakes up in Japan, taken over by raiders during some terrorist attack or something. I’ll admit, I barely remember the story of this game, and that’s coming from a guy who played through Battlefield 3 and 4, which had really unremarkable generic campaigns. But from what I gleaned from a wiki for the series, it’s basically double-crossing between various factions, and a surprise plot twist that the CEO of the Gilman corporation is also a mercenary soldier who caused the double-crossing. Hardly oscar-caliber story writing, but I got what I paid for. (Nothing.)

Something I noticed while playing was that a lot of the voice actors for this game are familiar to me. They’ve voiced characters in the Pokemon anime, mostly as minor characters. However, there is one voice I was surprised to hear: Jason Griffith, once the voice of a certain blue hedgehog, voices a minor character in this game. How the mighty have fallen, I guess.

One of the many classes you can choose from. You get Recon to start, and the rest require you to either grind or pay up.

One of the many classes you can choose from. You get Recon to start, and the rest require you to either grind levels or pay up to unlock.

Modern Combat 5 has a leveling system and unlockables. There’s a create-a-class option, weapons can be upgraded by using them in the game to unlock attachments and better weapons, and each class has special skills that are upgraded using SP. SP is gained between some missions, leveling up, and between events Gameloft put up. One thing I liked is how the rankings persist between both single player and multiplayer, which I wish more games did.

There are seven tiers of each weapon. While all the weapons are based of real guns, somebody at Gameloft thought that Tier 7 should be future-looking versions of old guns. The SMGs get a futuristic Thompson called the “Bromson,” Sniper rifles get a modernized Lee-Enfield called the “BSW 77,” and the pistol gets a future space Luger called the “Mrager.” I am not making this up. This is so ridiculous that I had to get screenshots of them:

Multiplayer is typical military FPS in a post-Call of Duty 4 world: You have perks, you have a powerup you can use, there’s killstreaks like recon drones and EMP strikes, and you get XP for kills. There’s the common FPS gamemodes: Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and an unusual TDM variant called VIP where the VIP is always visible on the minimap and killing them rewards more points than killing other players. Fun, but a VIP kill is 5 points and the scorelimit is 50, making the matches go by faster than expected.

My dad once said that combat drones will be the future of combat. I guess he was right.

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Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza: John McClane on a budget.

It’s the holiday season, and what better way to celebrate than playing something Christmas-related? How about a game based on one of the best damn action movies of the 80s, Die Hard?

I don't care what anyone says, this is a Christmas movie in my book.

I don’t care what anyone says, this is a Christmas movie in my book.

Okay, I may be stretching it a bit here. But it’s better than trying to find some Christmas-themed game involving Santa Claus. It’s also appropriate, considering Die Hard‘s legacy.

There have been many Die Hard games over the years. There was the top-down action game for the NES that’s been featured by the Angry Video Game Nerd and Games Done Quick, the multi-genre Die Hard Trilogy, even the Sega brawler Dynamite Deka which was rebranded as a Die Hard game when it hit stateside. But we’re gonna be talking about a little-known budget shooter that featured our old pal John McClane, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza.

Love how they don’t try to give a Bruce Willis-like face for McClane.

This game had an interesting history. Starting out as a “Die Hard TC” for Duke Nukem 3D, it eventually made the leap from the aging Build engine to the new GoldSrc engine in 1999. Development on Nakatomi Plaza went silent in 2000 as rumors went around 20th Century Fox sent a cease and desist on the project.

Eventually the game got re-announced the following year, now with the proper Die Hard license. Since 20th Century Fox had their own games publishing arm (at the time), the game got one more engine change: the fancy new Lithtech Engine. The engine that was used in The Operative: No One Lives Forever a year prior, and would be the primary engine for Monolith Productions’ stuff for years to come. The engine was also fairly cheap to license, which meant Lithtech powered lots of budget games I’ve actually talked about before. We’re talking stuff like CTU Marine Sharpshooter, Vietnam: Black Ops and…

But enough about the engine that powered a dozen junk games. Let’s get into the game itself. Nakatomi Plaza is a loose retelling of the original Die Hard‘s story. If you’re reading this and you’ve never seen Die Hard, stop reading this and watch the film. NOW. Alternately, you could read the book the movie’s based on, Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever, which I heard is actually a good book. If you have seen Die Hard, then continue. Preferably read this while listening to that GuyzNite song about the Die Hard franchise.

Since this game’s hits all the famous parts of the original movie, I won’t go into a play-by-play of the game, only for what the game has changed from the film itself.

The game starts out exactly the same as the film: John McClane arrives at Nakatomi Plaza thanks to Argyle the limo driver, meets up with Mr. Takagi, Ellis and Holly Gennaro, before Hans and his terrorist buddies come in and wreck stuff, leaving John barefoot with his 9mm Beretta.

It's weird to be playing an FPS with a left-handed protagonist. What is this, Counter-Strike?

It’s weird to be playing an FPS with a left-handed protagonist. What is this, Counter-Strike?

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Need for Speed Carbon on the Game Boy Advance: Time to Own the City!

There are many things that I’m always fascinated by, and one of them is portable versions of big console games. It’s surprising to see studios small and large try to squeeze as much power out of handhelds and hopefully make a good game out of it. I collect these on a rare occasion, and thought I’d dig one out of mothballs I bought awhile back and give it a spin.

As opposed to what, Own the Parking Lot?

Let’s hop in a ride and drive the mean streets, because we’re checking out Need for Speed: Carbon – Own the City for the Game Boy Advance. I mentioned buying this in an old “I Bought Stuff!” post from a year ago, and I wanted to see what a racing game looks on the ol’ GBA.

This is an EA Canada product, and came out on the GBA, PSP, and DS as the spinoff portable title alongside the main game on the bigger consoles. Usually the portable version is different in some ways than its console brethren, so let’s check it out.

The story’s fairly silly: You were in a race alongside your brother Mick, and a multi-car pile up by some unknown assailant caused the death of your brother and caused amnesia in you. What follows is a typical revenge plot as you work with Sara and Carter, Mick’s former crew members, as you climb your way back to the top and dominate districts and “Own the City,” as it were.

So let’s take a look at how this looks on the Game Boy Advance…

If you think it looks bad on a screenshot, imagine this in motion!

Oh. Oh dear. I’m not a graphics snob by any means, but this game looks pretty bad, even by GBA standards. Screenshots really do not do this justice, it looks like a blocky mess of a world on a platform that shouldn’t be running stuff like this. Feel the thrill of going 100 mph while feeling like you’re going half that speed!

Now I know the Game Boy Advance is not a 3D powerhouse, but something is really wrong when even playing it at top speed feels like a casual drive through a city than an actual racing game.

It doesn’t help that I can barely see anything. It’s very hard to see what’s ahead of you, and most of the roads are made of 90 degree angles that make it difficult to make good turns with slamming into the buildings. It doesn’t help that this perspective also makes swerving past traffic and opponent racers difficult.

Playing one of the Hunter races. One of the few modes where being in first isn’t guaranteed a win.

But enough about how it looks, here’s how it plays. A accelerates, B brakes, L activates Nitrous – provided you’ve unlocked it, and R is handbrake. There are four race types: Circuit, Sprint, Elimination, and Hunter. Circuit and Sprint are your standard races. Elimination removes the last place driver at each lap. Hunter is a strange one: Every skill or trick you do fills up a health bar, but hitting anything or stopping loses health. It’s less about finishing first and more about finishing with style.

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The Spear of Destiny Mission Packs: The Lost Wolfenstein games.

I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.

I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed.

They don't make game covers like these anymore...

They don’t make game covers like these anymore…

Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and weren’t playing Doom for some reason, this was one of the many way to fulfill your digital nazi killing urges. That, combined with the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, and you now had seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.

Both episodes have the same story: Hitler recovered the Spear of Destiny from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime once again and recover the Spear before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but to quote John Carmack from the book Masters of Doom, “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”

Well, I hope you like blue because there's a lot of it.

Well, I hope you like blue, because there’s a lot of it here.

So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.

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Remembering Xfire: The program that was once better than Steam.

A few days ago I had found out a memory from my PC gaming past was going away. Xfire, a game chat client, was shutting down its client and account services. This news saddened me, as Xfire and me go way back.

Memories...

Memories…

To describe Xfire, it was part instant messenger, part server browser. It was a lighter, sleeker Gamespy Arcade, or for a more recent example, AMD’s Raptr client. While Steam has basically taken over that landscape, for a long time having a complimentary client like Xfire was sometimes mandatory, almost to a point where it was bundled with some games, even being used in console games like Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, something that Sony Online Entertainment thought was fit for a press release.

Wasn't it fun to buy a game and find out that you couldn't play it? Such dark times...

Wasn’t it fun to buy a game and find out that you couldn’t play it? Such dark times…

For those who weren’t around in Steam’s early days, Steam was mostly garbage. Games didn’t run, you had to wait hours to install games (and there was no guarantee you’d get to play it right away!), and the most important feature, the Friends/Community, was perpetually broken and unusable. This is where Xfire excelled: It was a great chat client program to keep up with your gaming friends. Though it wasn’t just for Steam games, but other games where the server browser was cumbersome, like Soldier of Fortune II, or Battlefield 2, were also helpful for finding games back before peer-to-peer multiplayer was more common.

The Xfire website — which still exists, but only in a fragile shell nowadays — also had a fairly cool profile system setup. Here you could make friends, keep your favorite game servers for convenience, even take screenshots and video. All of these were considered pretty impressive for the mid-2000s, and paved the way for competitors to adapt that into their social features.

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Sega Swirl: The puzzle game time forgot.

Sega in the late 1990s to early 2000s was a weird time, at least here in the United States. After bungling the Sega Saturn, there seemed to be some hope for the company with the blue hedgehog as they released the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, being a modestly successful system. But then Sony’s PlayStation 2 came out the following years and steamrolled over all competition, forcing Sega to abandon games console production and go into full-time game publishing instead. As time rolls on, the Dreamcast era seems to be more fondly remembered, alongside many of the games that came with it. But there’s one game Sega heavily pushed during this era, one that has been slowly forgotten to time.

While Sega was mostly known in the console space, they did have a middling PC division during those years. Most of them ports of legacy games like Sonic & Knuckles Collection, but there was one game they released around 2000 that was a unique, interesting idea. It was a game that would absolutely dominate my middle school years in terms of its simplicity and fun factor.

What the heck kind of company is

What the heck kind of company is “Sega of America Dreamcast” anyway?

Introducing Sega Swirl, a fairly simple puzzle game released by Sega, loosely inspired by the Dreamcast logo swirl. This came out as a freeware game from around 1999-2000, and while the title screen is incredibly basic, there’s a lot more to it than you think.

The swirls almost look like colored cinnamon rolls. Damn, now I’m hungry.

The gameplay is fairly simple: You’re given a grid of swirl colors, and your goal is to find groups of colored swirls for points. Removing them shrinks the playfield down, making it easy to build up combos. However, removing a single swirl will result in you losing points. In the standard “Level mode,” you must complete five goals to finish the stage, thus chaining swirls together for massive points is the end goal. It’s a fairly simple game, but still fun even in spite of its basic looks.

A shame this came out in 2000, before esports were a thing. I would totally watch a Sega Swirl tournament.

There’s also a Versus mode, where up to four competitors start taking enemy swirls for massive points. The goal is to knock your opponents out by eliminating that player’s swirls from the field. Like before, clicking a single swirl makes you lose points, but since your goal is to eliminate your opponent, it’s a good strategy to grab one swirl just to knock them out of the game faster. It’s a fun, competitive mode.

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This! Is! JEOPARDY! On handhelds!

One idea I had during my game show research was to cover most of the notable adaptations of game show games, such as Jeopardy! There’s one problem, though:

jeopardygames

That’s… a lot of Jeopardy.

There are a lot of Jeopardy! games. I mean a lot of them. MobyGames doesn’t even list all of them. Plus for a game as simple as Jeopardy!, there isn’t much to say about each one. So I decided to go smaller. Much smaller.

I kinda loved that starburst GameTek logo more than the more famous blocky logo.

Today, I’m gonna talk about Jeopardy! on the Game Boy. Jeopardy! was one of the few game show games that made it to Nintendo’s greenscale handheld in 1991, alongside Wheel of Fortune. Naturally GameTek published this outing, and it boasted “Over 1,500 new questions!” on the box. Though considering the show they should’ve boasted “1,500 new answers,” but I’m not gonna get too nitpicky here.

They need to bring back that Jeopardy! logo with the needlessly long exclamation point. I think it looks neat.

I remember getting both Jeopardy! and Wheel in a combo pack at Target for about $10 each. This was the mid-90s, and Target was chock full of excess copies, so selling one to a young budding game show/video game nut like me was a treat.

These games got a lot of action during vacation trips, such as the one time I went to a resort cabin with my family and was happily having fun with this, and occasionally Pokemon Red. I mean, before everybody had the internet in their pockets, what else could you do?

But enough reminiscing. This is Jeopardy! on the Game Boy.

We’re off to a rough start where it shows these three options: Play against the computer, go head to head, or use a link cable to go head to head. The problem with the last one is that it’s ultimately pointless. Jeopardy! is not an intense head-to-head game like Tetris or Dr. Mario, and you already have a two players on one system option already in place. It just seems like a feature they slapped onto the box just to say they had it.

Notice that so far I’ve mentioned only two players. Well, here’s why.

No Alex Trebek? Disappointing.

As opposed to allowing three players, like every other Jeopardy! game in existence, this game is two players only. This is baffling, considering it probably wouldn’t be hard to support three players on the handheld. Oh well, let’s move on.

Sadly no Alex Trebek in this version. Nintendo Power once described the host as “Guy Smiley” from Sesame Street, but I’d say he more resembles Mr. Game Show‘s dorkier brother. Also, our intrepid not-Trebek is not at a podium, magically reading all the clues from a single question card, and occasionally teleporting to the board when a Daily Double is chosen. This host certainly has some voodoo magic, and we should be afraid of him at all costs.

Jeopardy (U) [BF]_14

As Trebek would say, “pay attention to the quotes.” This is fairly easy even for a $100 clue.

It handles pretty closely to the TV show, having 30 clues separated between six categories, 1-2 Daily Doubles depending on the round, and Final Jeopardy! is in there mostly intact. Though, I can tell the clues aren’t nearly as refined or polished as the TV show’s. Guess they didn’t want to take material from old episodes for reference, which considering there would’ve been six years of shows to go from would’ve been just fine to me. Continue reading…

More video game snacks, featuring Mario and Plants vs. Zombies 2!

A few years ago, I had found out there were gummy candies based off the then hot new property Angry Birds: Space, which I reviewed here. I decided to give them a try and was firmly disappointed how they tasted like gummy bears and not actual fruit snacks. Then I had found out thanks to a store called Rocket Fizz that there were several variants of this dumb candy.

Clearly I'm not gonna try them all, the first box I had was bad enough!

Clearly I’m not gonna try them all, the first box I had was bad enough!

Struggling with what I wanted to write about lately, I decided to hop into a nearby Dollar Tree in Portland. In addition to the rare sight of Pibb Xtra in bottles, I found these two gems:

Because video game candy can spur ideas more than anything else can.

Because video game candy can spur ideas more than anything else can.

Super Mario 3-Dees gummies and Plants vs. Zombies 2 fruit flavored snacks. Score! Because unhealthy things like candy and soda will always fuel my blog in some way.

I’m gonna review both of them today, in spite of them not having anything to do with one another except both of them are candy. This will be fun.

One of these things is not like the others...

One of these things is not like the others…

Super Mario 3-Dees have the distinction of being 3D shaped, which I guess means they look more like the real thing and not freaks of nature like most fruit snacks look like. The bag comes with four flavors: Strawberry, Watermelon, Orange and “mixed berries,” with four of the characters from the famed Mario franchise being featured: Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and… Diddy Kong.

They still do the seal of quality?!

I wouldn’t put Diddy Kong as being part of the Mario franchise unless you wanna count his appearances in Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart. Perhaps Luigi, Peach or even Bowser would’ve been better choices. Oh well, at least this is an official Nintendo licensed product, complete with the Nintendo not-quite-Seal of Quality on the back of the bag.

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